School & District Management

Education Issues Resonate in Governors’ Races

By Evie Blad — November 12, 2019 4 min read
Kentucky Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Attorney General Andy Beshear appears at the state Democrtic Party's election night watch event.

This year’s November elections—a preview to next year’s nationwide showdowns—cast their own spotlight on education, a dynamic that played out most prominently in the Kentucky governor’s race, where teachers organized to unseat a combative incumbent who’d sparred with them over issues like charter schools and the future of the state’s pension plan.

As of late last week, Attorney General Andy Beshear, a Democrat, led Republican Gov. Matt Bevin in a tight race the Associated Press was still deeming too close to call and which Bevin was refusing to concede. Beshear, the son of Bevin’s predecessor, had former educator Jacqueline Coleman as a running mate and capitalized on public concern for teachers.

Education also resonated in other state and local elections across the country Nov. 5. Mississippi voters elected Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who supports expanding private school choice through education savings accounts. Virginia voters handed control of their state legislature to Democrats, who’d identified school funding as a top priority.

And in Denver, a district known for choice-based reform, voters elected a slate of union-backed school board candidates who oppose such efforts.

Still to Come

Off-year elections are often viewed as bellwethers for the larger numbers of races in presidential election years. In addition to the 2020 race for the White House, voters in 11 states will elect governors next year.

After outbreaks of teacher activism around the country in recent years, educators watched this year’s Kentucky race in particular to see if their past demonstrations around issues like pay and student supports would have lasting effects at the ballot box. Educators are also looking to flex their political muscle at the national level as teachers’ unions consider which Democratic presidential candidates will win their coveted endorsements.

In Kentucky, teachers called in sick en masse in 2018 and again this year to protest proposed changes to the state’s public-employee pension system, which had been cited by Standard & Poor’s as the worst-funded in the nation. Kentucky educators are not eligible for Social Security, and many were concerned that the state wouldn’t honor its obligations. The Republican-controlled legislature failed to pass bills that would have cut cost-of-living adjustments to help stem the crisis.

Beshear successfully sued after Bevin signed a pension-reform bill that legislators had tacked onto an unrelated measure shortly before it passed. Beshear has proposed backfilling the pension system through funds generated by taxes on gambling and through legalizing marijuana.

Though Bevin had not conceded on election night, Beshear gave a victory speech in which he credited teachers.

“To our educators, your courage to stand up and fight against all of the bullying and name calling helped galvanize our entire state,” Beshear said. “This is your victory. From now on, the doors of your state capitol will always be open. We will treat each other with dignity and respect, and we will honor our commitments to our public servants.”

Bevin made pointed comments about the teachers during the sickouts, saying they’d be to blame if students were hurt while they were out of school. He ran on the state’s economy and ties to President Donald Trump, seeking to frame the race around national politics and social issues. Trump himself visited the Bluegrass State for a rally the night before the election to champion Bevin.

But, while Kentucky has trended red—including in contests other than the governor’s race last week—voters have a history of cutting across traditional political lines.

An organization called 120 Strong, a group of teachers that mobilized in every county in the Bluegrass State, worked to organize neighbors and plant yard signs, gathering around the motto “anyone but Bevin.”

“Tonight belongs to the working people who stepped away from the sidelines and into the political arena to take back the KY Governor seat from a failed leader,” 120 Strong co-founder Nema Brewer tweeted as the results came in.

Flexing Muscles

In Mississippi, where teachers have also demonstrated over education issues, Reeves defeated Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood in a race to replace term-limited Republican Gov. Phil Bryant. On education, the two offered differing visions for developing, attracting, and retaining teachers.

Mississippi lawmakers proposed teachers’ raises up to $4,000 last year before eventually approving a $1,500 increase, the Clarion Ledger reported.

Reeves’ education plan called for gradually raising Mississippi teachers’ salaries by about $4,200 over four years to meet the regional average. He also called for bonuses for teachers in high-needs areas. Hood’s plan called for more immediate, broader changes, including an additional $3,000 in teacher raises.

The two also differed on school choice.

Reeves supported a proposal to add allocate $2 million in state funding for education savings accounts, which allow families to send their children to private schools, and he said in interviews that he supports charter schools.

“I believe strongly in giving parents an option about what’s best for their kid,” Reeves told Mississippi Today in 2018. “I think parents have a better idea of what is best for their kid, than any government entity ever will.”

Hood told Mississippi reporters he would not support school choice, but said he was willing to listen to supporters of those policies.

Up next, Louisiana voters head to the polls Nov. 16 for a runoff in their governor’s race, pitting Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards against challenger Eddie Rispone, a Republican businessman. Edwards has criticized state education chief John White and his approach to school improvement and accountability.

A version of this article appeared in the November 13, 2019 edition of Education Week as Education Issues Resonate in Governors’ Races

Events

Jobs The EdWeek Top School Jobs Virtual Career Fair
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
A Safe Return to Schools is Possible with Testing
We are edging closer to a nationwide return to in-person learning in the fall. However, vaccinations alone will not get us through this. Young children not being able to vaccinate, the spread of new and
Content provided by BD
Equity & Diversity Live Online Discussion What Is Critical Race Theory and Why You Shouldn't Shy Away From It
In this episode of A Seat at the Table, Peter DeWitt sits down with lawyer-educator Janel George and EdWeek reporters, Stephen Sawchuk and Andrew Ujifusa, as they discuss what’s at the heart of the critical

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management More Than 1 Million Students Didn't Enroll During the Pandemic. Will They Come Back?
Education Week analyzed state data to gather a more comprehensive understanding of this year's enrollment loss.
6 min read
Students participate in class outside at the Woodland Pond School, a private school  located near Bangor, Maine. Maine experienced one of the nation's largest drops in student enrollment this school year, according to an EdWeek analysis.
Students participate in class outside at the Woodland Pond School, a private school located near Bangor, Maine. Maine experienced one of the nation's largest drops in student enrollment this school year, according to an EdWeek analysis.
Photo courtesy of Woodland Pond School
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Sponsor
Drive Improvement in Your School With Harvard’s Certificate in School Management and Leadership
Aubree Mills had two dilemmas she needed to address: One was recruiting and retaining good teachers at the Ira A. Murphy Elementary School
Content provided by Harvard Graduate School of Education
School & District Management Opinion Are Your Leadership Practices Good Enough for Racial Justice?
Scratch being a hero. Instead, build trust and reach beyond school walls, write Jennifer Cheatham and John B. Diamond.
Jennifer Cheatham & John B. Diamond
5 min read
Illustration of leadership.
Collage by Laura Baker/Education Week (Images: DigitalVision Vectors, iStock, Getty)
School & District Management We Pay Superintendents Big Bucks and Expect Them to Succeed. But We Hardly Know Them
National data is skimpy, making it hard to know what influences superintendents' decisions to move on, retire, or how long they stay. Why?
8 min read
Conceptual image of tracking with data.
marcoventuriniautieri/iStock/Getty